Union representatives point to worsening outage rates as proof positive of the dilapidated and obsolete state of Telstra's copper network, and the urgent need for a better NBN plan.
The ailing condition of Telstra’s century-old copper network has deprived tens of thousands of Australians of internet or phone connections for as long as a month, with the company’s maintenance workers struggling to deal with a copious backlog of repair work.
National wait time figures leaked to the press indicate that as many 41,736 customers have been deprived of connectivity, with eastern New South Wales the hardest hit region.
In Wollongong, 906 customers had been left offline by network malfunctions, while in Byron Bay and the Sydney suburb of Wetherill Park, the figures were 821 and 662 customers respectively.
Ruptured connections were far from confined to NSW, however, with outages afflicting 612 customers in tropical Cairns, and 566 customers on the other side of the country in the Western Australia’s Canning.
These malfunctions bode very poorly for the multi-technology mix (MTM) fibre-to-the-node (FTTN) model for the NBN that is currently being implemented by the Coalition government, which avails itself of extensively of Telstra’s existing copper network in order to provide a cheaper and faster broadband solution to the whole of Australia.
This is particularly the case given that copper networks need to be kept in a healthy condition in order to ensure their sound functioning for internet connection purposes.
The latest spate of malfunctions would also appear to vindicate long-standing complaints about the quality of Telstra’s copper network – particularly from the very maintenance and repair workers who possess the best first-hand knowledge of its workings.
Toward the end of 2013, the Communications, Electrical and Plumbing Union slammed the copper-wire network as “beyond repair,” and “an absolute disgrace.”
Shane Murphy, assistant secretary for CEPU’s NSW branch said they went so far as to assert that replacing the broken parts of the system would be tantamount to replacing the entire network.
The union claimed the network was riddled with “plastic bags [and] ring-barked cables,” releasing photos of Telstra pits in NSW’s Illawarra region showing the use of plastic bottles and bags to insulate wiring.
Murphy used the latest round of outages to launch another broadside against Telstra’s copper network, saying it was “falling apart,” as well as “outdated” and “obsolete.”
He pointed in particular to an increase in the number of faults over the past seven years from approximately 6,000 customers being disconnected per day in NSW to roughly 20,000 at present, as well as an increase in the national number from below 20,000 to roughly 42,000.
The union advocates abandoning the multi-technology-mix solution for the NBN, which relies so heavily on the maligned copper network, with Murphy saying a fibre network would put Australia’s internet connectivity on par with the rest of the world.
Even if Telstra’s copper network proved to be up to scratch, under the Coalition’s current plans the NBN may still fail to cater to Australia’s future broadband needs.
The Coalition’s broadband policy unveiled prior to the last federal election outlines the provision of at least 25/5 Mbps for all premises throughout Australia by the end of 2016, and 50/x Mpbs for 90 per cent of fixed line premises even sooner.
These rates would mean leave many Australians to access to “bare minimum broadband” as recently re-defined by the US Federal Communications Commission in January, which raised the definition of broadband from four Mbps downstream and one Mbps upstream to 25 Mbps downstream and three Mbps upstream.